1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Sunday, March 04, 2007

18. Daniel Defoe - Roxana (1724)

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Francisco: If one thing can be said about Daniel Defoe, it is that he was an expert at getting himself inside another character's skin. Defoe does that again here with Roxana, probably the best of his novels.

There is a problem however, it is quite similar in some respects to Moll Flanders and having read the two books in quick succession they sometimes meld into each other. Roxana, however, is the more introspective of the two; it is a book more interested in the psychological plight of the main character rather than just saying what is happening, which is what happened in Moll Flanders. Roxana is an even more fiercely independent woman than Moll, and although the book ends up condemning her actions you can't help but admire her attitude or think that Defoe did the same.

So, Roxana, even tough the less known of the books by Defoe on the list is also the best of them, it is also his last novel unfortunately, and here's a guy you could see evolving in his books, as they get progressively better from the lacklustre Robinson Crusoe to the very good Roxana.

Vanda: When reading his work, you can really see Defoe evolving, which is a very interesting experience. Roxana can be quite shocking at times - being the mistress of her landlord for convenience sake, Roxana has no problem in inviting her servant into bed to sleep with him, while she watches, for example, and, while, unlike Moll, she only faces poverty and starvation once, she is quite happy with taking several lovers over the years, while amassing an impressive fortune.

I cannot fault the book, but I must say the main character can be very annoying at times; she's too coquettish, too extensive in the praises of her own beauty and of other's admiration for it, and, after a while, this starts to grate. It is, however, fantastically done because you completely forget it's not actually written by a woman. Defoe is in fact impressive in knowing how to write through the mouth of his characters. That being said, Moll is certainly the nicest of the two, and the one that makes for more exciting reading.

Final Grade

Francisco: 8/10
Vanda: 8/10


From Wikipedia:

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress is a 1724 novel by Daniel Defoe. Its full title is Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Or, a History of the Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of Mademoiselle De Beleau, Afterwards Called the Countess De wintselshei. The novel concerns the story of an unnamed "fallen woman", the second time Defoe wrote about this theme after Moll Flanders. In the book, a woman who takes on various pseudonyms including, "Roxana," decribes her fall from wealth thanks to a "fool" of a husband and movement into prostitution upon his abandonment. The woman moves up and down through the social spectrum various times, by secretly courting a prince, marrying a jeweller, and marrying a dutch merchant, being finally able to afford her own freedom by accumilating wealth from these men. The novel examines the possiblity of eighteenth century women owning their own estate despite a patriarchal society and draws attention to the incompatability between sexual freedom and freedom from motherhood -- the woman becomes pregnant many times due to her sexual exploits and it one of her children which come back to expose her, years later, by the closing scenes in the novel.

The character of Roxana can be described as a proto-feminist because she carries out her actions of prostitution for her own ends of freedom, but before a feminist ideology was fully formed, which would rule out freedom through such a technique.


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